BELMAR, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Belmar is starting its season with heartbreak after rescue crews pulled two elementary school girls from the water Thursday evening.
As CBS2’s Meg Baker reported, dozens of classmates and neighborhood families gathered at St. Rose Church in Belmar on Friday to pray for 12-year-old Emily Hernandez, she remained on life support at Jersey Shore Medical Center after being rescued from the ocean on Thursday.
Her 13-year-old cousin, Mitzi Lugo, was immediately brought ashore but it was too late.
Belmar Mayor Matthew Doherty said the cousins got caught in rough waters around 6 p.m.
Rescue crews first pulled Hernandez from the water and performed CPR on the beach.
“As she was being transported, another person on the beach said there’s another person in the water,” Doherty said.
The 13-year-old Lugo died. Her 12-year-old cousin is now clinging to life
“She’s a little girl. A little girl. I saw her yesterday at school,” said family friend Rosie Lopez. “It’s just so crazy. You never expect something like this.”
“Two beautiful girls that we’re going to miss,” Belmar school superintendent David Hallman said. “We’re just concentrating on our students right now and the parents.”
The mayor said the children were swimming without any adult supervision. There were no lifeguards on duty.
“You’ve got to swim with a lifeguard,” said witness Ira Melon. “You can’t swim after hours and there’s always ripcurrents.”
“Lifeguards in Belmar start Monday-Friday until school’s out. That’s when we really have the personnel for it,” Doherty said.
“We usually start lifeguards the day after school ends. This tragedy happened the day before school ends. We are bringing them on today in response to yesterday and we’re obviously going to review our policy going forward. A tragedy like this has really shaken our community including the governing body as well. We have to figure out a way to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
Jeanmarie Schulman was on the beach with her three kids when she spotted someone floating in the waves in jean shorts and a tank top near the jetty.
“Kicked flip flops off, sunglasses, I’m going in after her,” she said.
Once she reached the girl, Schulman started screaming for help.
“Turned her over, checked for a pulse, started talking to her,” she said.
Once they reached the beach, she immediately performed CPR to no avail.
“Someone made a comment that gave me chills, ‘you know when you lifted her she became one of your children too now, a guardian angel for you and your children,” she said.
“Just sweet girls that are willing to help other children, so it’s just a difficult time right now,” Hallman said.
For many parents, this tragedy emphasizes a need for lifeguards earlier in the season.
“Someone is not alive right now because of this,” the witness said.
Rescue boats were in the water into the night searching for a possible third victim, but the mayor said that report turned out to be false.
Grief counselors have been brought to Belmar Elementary School.
Just last week, lifeguards went to the school to teach kids about water and beach safety.